For most American women, we cannot conceive of marrying a man we don’t love, much less marrying a man our parents and community chooses for us. Not to say that this doesn’t happen in some regions and/or faiths, or that it wasn’t a more common phenomenon in another time and place, but since the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and the mainstreaming of modern feminism, American women have been fighting for respect; not just respect of our persons, but of our needs, desires, passions and our choices. We won’t always make the right choices as life is overwrought with bad mistakes that began with the purest of intentions. But, we should be allowed to make those mistakes in a place and at our time of our choosing. This is why it is so important to learn about how women live and are treated in other areas of the world. While we are not where we want to be or where we should be on the social and economic ladder, we also aren’t where our sisters across the world are. We have the choice and freedom to say, “no,” whereas they do not.
There is no better example of this than Ariana Mansour’s gripping memoir, He Never Deserved Me. Mansour’s book tells of how she was groomed from an early age to pick a suitor who was of the right age and financial standing in her Beirut community. Mansour was not a Muslim, like most will assume by her country of origin; she was born into a Catholic family which points to how the control over women’s lives and their destinies is not a cultural aberration, but a social one. The same rules for marriage and how women were to behave in the marriage applied to everyone, regardless of religion just so long as she was female.
In the book, Mansour almost looks at her life from the point of view of an outsider looking in. Even though she writes in the first person, as a reader, you get the feeling that she is a whole new person from the character she writes about. She’s even given herself a different name, “Daliyah.” Whether this was intentional or not, Mansour does her best to look at the entire 20+ year experience as a chapter in a larger book of her life. And, even though she explains some of the harsh ways in which the man she married treated her and their son, she never really says anything to disparage his character. Instead, you see him the way other people, like his best friends and long time business partners, saw him. You see how Daliyah’s family saw him and how their neighbors saw him.
Unlike some memoirs written by ex-wives this year, Daliyah never comes off as bitter and the book doesn’t appear to be a tale of revenge that starts and ends with her desire for money and the lifestyle he gave her. She doesn’t paint herself in an unrealistic light, either. You see her flaws, she’s bare and naked with them.
Daliyah never tries to convince readers that their marriage was based on love because that is the fairytale she wants to believe. Her husband was like most men of means or celebrity who will build women up and then dispose of them when their usefulness is no more. She admits that he knew he could control her and she knew that was exactly what he was doing, but because of her culture, she didn’t have very many choices. Women here have choices. We can stay or walk. That freedom is what Daliyah yearned for and it is a shame that some surrender that hard-fought freedom happily if fame and fortune are the outcomes.
Daliyah never wanted that from her husband; she did crave love, affection and intimacy— things he was never able to give her, but seemed to lavish it upon the women with whom he had affairs. Her husband was living and treating her like a rockstar where he knew she couldn’t leave because of the laws in Beirut and the fact that she didn’t have the financial freedom to say, “goodbye.” There would have been no divorce settlement— and she had their child to care for. In fact, there would have been no visitation with her son if she had succeeded in divorcing. She was willing to sacrifice her happiness to keep her child with her. She would have had to leave their home and return to her parents without him and that was not something she was willing to do.
Material items like the wedding China, clothing and other vestiges of a marriage that should have never been could have been sold and Daliyah could have made a living off of that, but she was more ambitious and not content with being who her family or husband tried to mold her into being. Daliyah really did love her husband, at first, and although he played the game to get her, it was clear that he did not love her and had it not been for his age (he was older), might have left her very early in the marriage and she may have been better off, but she realizes that she would not have her son either, and he is the most important person in her life.
Daliyah is character of strength, one girls can look up to. Despite overwhelming challenges, she made a life for herself outside of her exes’ shadow. Never a victim, Mansour’s tale is about a woman whose resolve and pursuit of happiness makes her a survivor who, after years of strife was finally able to find true love.
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